Farmers along part of the Oregon-California border will get very little water for irrigation this year, potentially forcing some of them to idle precious acres of farmland or go out of business without other forms of relief.
On Wednesday, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that it would allocate only 33,000 acre-feet for the Klamath project — about 8% of historical demand. Project supply from Upper Klamath Lake will become available to charge Klamath Project canals and allow for limited irrigation no earlier than May 15. The remaining project deliveries will begin no earlier than June 1.
In "normal" years, the Klamath Project provides irrigation for 230,000 acres of farmland in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
"This water year is unlike anything the Project has ever seen," said Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. "We will continue to monitor the hydrology and look for opportunities for operational flexibility, provide assistance to Project water users and the Tribes, and keep an open dialogue with our stakeholders, the states, and across the federal government to get through this water year together."
Federal agencies are offering financial assistance to compensate for some losses.
On Wednesday, the Bureau of Reclamation announced it will give the Klamath Project Drought Relief Agency $15 million and will also provide $3 million to area Tribes. The funding announcement comes amid a season of historically low inflows into Upper Klamath Lake, following consecutive drought years.
At a public meeting of the Klamath Water Users Association, recorded and shared by Klamath Falls News, president Ben DuVal expressed deep concern for the agricultural community.
“The simple fact is it just hasn’t rained or snowed this year,” he said, and the water for irrigation allocated under the Bureau’s 2021 Temporary Operations Plan is “barely enough to charge some ditches.”
Depending on hydrology and actual conditions over the summer, there could be a little bit more water allocated later in the season. But DuVal said while it could be enough to fight over, it won’t be adequate for many farms.
“For some of us, it may mean that we’re not in business next year,” he said.
This year will be either the second-worst or in the top spot for drought over the past 20 years and federal law in the region requires consideration of endangered fish species when determining water allocations.
In issuing the plan for the Klamath Project, the Bureau said there is not sufficient water this year to meet all of the region’s demands.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued a joint statement earlier this month in response to the severity of the drought.
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“The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture recognize the urgency of this crisis and its impacts on farmers, Tribes, and communities, and are committed to an all-hands-on-deck approach that both minimizes the impacts of the drought and develops a long-term plan to facilitate conservation and economic growth,” the joint statement read. “Our agencies are actively working with Oregon, California and other western states to coordinate resources and identify immediate financial and technical assistance for impacted irrigators and Tribes.”
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a statement to assure all of those impacted in the Klamath Basin that "you are not alone.
“I have spoken with Oregon’s congressional delegation and we are united in our pursuit of all avenues of relief for the Klamath Basin. These drought conditions have the full attention of our offices, and we are coordinating with the White House, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Agriculture to get help and relief where it is needed most," she said.
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This article has been updated with a correction for Gov. Brown.